Scripture in Depth
Reading I: Acts 15:1-2, 22-29
This is Acts’ version of the apostolic conference at Jerusalem. Paul’s account of it in Galatians 2:1-12 agrees to some extent. The dramatis personae (Paul, Barnabas, Peter, James) and the point at issue, namely, the circumcision of Gentile converts to Christianity, are the same. But the outcome is different.
In Paul, the conference results in a “gentlemen’s agreement”: Peter will head up the mission to the Jews, Paul the mission to the Gentiles, and the law will not be imposed on the Gentile churches.
In Acts, the conference concludes with the adoption of a compromise solution (the apostolic decrees): the Gentiles are spared the burden of circumcision but must observe a certain minimum of legal requirements. Acts has probably combined the results of two separate conferences.
The first conference concluded as Paul said, but it left unclear what was to happen when Jews and Gentiles in mixed communities ate the Eucharistic meal together. Hence the subsequent fracas in Antioch described by Paul in Galatians 2:11-14.
It was to deal with this later problem that a second conference was apparently held, the results of which were communicated to Paul on his last visit to Jerusalem (Acts 21:25. If Paul was present when the decrees were promulgated, as Acts 15 alleges, why would James have to inform Paul of them in Acts 21?).
Responsorial Psalm: 67:2-3, 5, 6, 8
Psalm 67 combines thanksgiving for harvest with prayer for continued blessings. It serves as an appropriate thanksgiving for the resurrection and for the continuation of the enjoyment of its benefits in the Church and the spread of its benefits to all nations.
Reading II: Revelation 21:10-14, 22-23
This is a continuation (in part a repetition and in part a further development) of the picture of the descent of the new Jerusalem. The descent is repeated, but a further description of the city is given—its radiance, its walls and gates, its foundations, its need of neither temple nor sun.
There is a partial correspondence between the holy city and the Church on earth. The Church, too, has a radiance—not the splendor of a worldly power (though it has often masqueraded as such since the time of Constantine), but the radiance of the word and the sacraments and the presence of the Spirit.
The Church, too, has continuity with the old Israel, suggested by the symbolism of the twelve gates, angels, and tribes. Its foundation is the twelve apostles—their witness to Jesus Christ and his resurrection, perpetuated in the Church’s Scriptures and expounded in its doctrine by the successors of the apostles.
But there is a temple in the Church, a visible place where God’s presence is made known in word and sacrament. This is not because he is not everywhere, but because in this age and on this earth he wills to be manifested in a particular place, at a particular time, in a particular rite and a particular sacrament, this bread and this wine.
Here is the scandal of the Church’s particularity. To seek to abolish the temple in this age on this earth, as some kinds of secular interpretations of the Gospel would like to do, is to ignore the “not yet” and to suppose that we are already in heaven. That is Schwärmerei, fanaticism.
Gospel: John 14:23-29
In the Easter season we tend to read the farewell discourses, with their promise of the coming of the Paraclete (RSV: “Counselor”), as discourses given by the risen and not yet ascended Lord during the forty days in preparation for the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost.
For the evangelist, they are discourses of the earthly Jesus, placed in the context of the Last Supper. They look through and beyond the death of Jesus to his glorification, which releases the gift of the Spirit. Thus, in the early Church the whole of the fifty days included the celebration of the gift of the Spirit, not just the day of Pentecost.
We are here listening to a promise fulfilled at Easter. In the Fourth Gospel the risen Christ conveys the gift of the Spirit to his disciples on Easter Sunday evening (see the Gospel of Pentecost Sunday). The Spirit is, as in Paul’s letters, the gift of the risen Christ.
In the gift of the Spirit, the risen Christ and the Father come and make their home with the disciples.
The function of the Spirit is to “teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” It is not the work of the Spirit to convey ever new revelations, but to unfold in ever new understanding, interpretation, and application the once-for-all revelation of Jesus Christ (“all that I have said to you”).
“His work is more than a reminiscence of the ipsissima verba [the exact words] of the Son of God; it is a living representation of all that he had spoken to his disciples, a creative exploitation of the gospel” (EC Hoskyns).
This ongoing work of the Spirit gives the disciples peace and takes away their fear, because the Spirit is always there as their helper who stands by them in persecution and martyrdom.
Reginald H. Fuller
**From Saint Louis University